Welcome to the webbed and wired edition of R&R, aristotle. We’ll be doing the same sort of song and dance here as we do in print: reviewing the latest comics and cartoon-related books and ranting about trends and abuses and unfathomable foolishnesses. Each installment will stay here for about four weeks, with a new one coming in just about every other week or so. If you don’t have the time to ponder every punctuation mark in this deathless prose and merely want to see what might be there that would interest you, we suggest you scroll down the page looking for the bold-face type that heralds the notables who reside herein this week. So here we go with a Rapid Rabbit Bonus posting, plus Opus 342 (and a reprise of Opus 341):
NEWSPAPER VIOLATES GOOD JOURNALISTIC PRACTICE
IN FIRING EDITOONIST TED RALL
To say that political cartoonist Ted Rall is provocative is much like saying the Empire State Building is a pretty tall building or Mount Everest is quite a big hill. Rall often is, simply and unabashedly, extreme and outrageous, caustic sarcasm oozing from every panel of his cartoons. I usually agree with him—although at somewhat fewer decibels per utterance. And when his ire is aroused, as it has been lately, he can exaggerate the situation that irks him—he is, after all, a cartoonist—and maybe even stretch the truth a tad. So when he first began claiming that he’d been “fired” by the Los Angeles Times for spurious reasons, I paused before climbing on his bandwagon. For one thing, he couldn’t be “fired”: he freelances with the Times, contributing both cartoons and opinion columns.
It soon developed that not only had the Times resolved not to use any of Rall’s submissions in future (effectively “firing” him), but the paper announced its decision to the world on its website, a suspicious act on its face: Why would a newspaper feel compelled to make a public proclamation that it was no longer going to use the contributions of a freelancer? The announcement continued, justifying the decision by claiming that a recent Rall column played fast and loose with the facts, thereby smearing his professional integrity as a reporter and commentator. And that, like the announcement itself, seemed a little extreme. Not only was the Times “firing” Rall in public, but it was sabotaging his reputation so he wouldn’t be able to find work anywhere else.
This is serious stuff. Deadly serious. No wonder Rall was pissed.
Almost at once, Rall was able to demonstrate that the Times, in its effort to destroy him, had abandoned customary journalistic practices, accepting accusations as factual without questioning their provenance or examining their accuracy. Pretty high-handed behavior. And then it seems that the people making the accusations—the Los Angeles Police Department and, in particular, the policemen’s union (the Los Angeles Police Protective League, LAPPL)—own substantial portions of stock in the Times and thereby assume that their ownership gives them the right to dictate staffing policies at the paper.
Rall has been a frequent critic of the LAPD—calling it inept, dishonest, overly militarized and often abusive of civilians— enough to be an annoyance worth getting rid of. So the LAPD, allegedly in the guise of its union, took steps. And got results.
Despite what the Times would have us think about how sacred preserving its journalistic integrity is, to the even mildly interested observer in possession of this array of facts, it looks like the Times compromised its integrity to please the cops.
That’s the short summary of a sinister situation. Sinister because it appears that Rall was not “fired” so much for misstating some facts as he was for expressing an opinion about the police. Reprehensible (even unnecessary) though it is for a newspaper to publically fire and defame a contributor, the issue has wider ramifications. Rall has been needlessly smeared, but he’s merely a contributing cartoonist. If the Los Angeles Times will forsake ordinary ethics and journalistic good practice in his case to please a stockholder, what might the paper do in the case of a larger public issue—say, one more directly connected to the balance sheet and regular revenues?
And the Times is not alone in this behavior in the newspaper business. The sainthood of American journalism has always been tainted by commercialism and political power.
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